Lakes Again! March 2004

Helen Rose Hill Diary

Photo: Coniston. Since many of my hill walking pals have completed the Scottish Munros, they offered to help me tick off more Munros so we planned to visit Ullapool in February with the intention of tackling the Fannaichs. However, prior to the weekend there had been heavy snowfalls in the north of Scotland and with Ullapool more than five hours' drive away, it would not be sensible to travel north with the risk of roads blocked by snow and the walking difficult with a lot of soft unconsolidated snow. The decision was made to travel to the English Lake District where the weather forecast was for fine, sunny weather.

We set off from Glasgow in fine, sunny weather but by the time we reached Keswick, it was snowing and continued all afternoon which meant abandoning the walk and spending a lot of time in Outdoor Shops of which Keswick has many! We also decided to treat ourselves to bed and breakfast as it was very cold and the private hostel in Keswick had very little heating. We visited the only hostelry in Keswick with live music in the evening but it was dire so we left early.

On Saturday, the snow was still lying and we had planned to climb Scafell Pike as it is one of the English mountains over 3,000 feet. In Scotland it would qualify as a Munro! Skiddaw looked very majestic from Keswick with it's white cap of snow. To get to Scafell Pike would mean crossing Hardknott Pass which is a very steep remote road and we were not sure if it would be gritted. The alternative was a longer drive around the coast. It was decided to drive to Ambleside and head for the Old Man of Coniston where the roads were likely to be easier to drive as it was very cold and icy. By the time we reached Ambleside, there was no snow on the ground and I thought Scotland was famous for it's micro climates!

Photo: Green slate mine. We headed up to the car park and walked on to the Coniston Fells on excellent paths reaching the disused green slate quarry. Quarries like this produce slate which is largely a result of metamorphism of Early Paleozoic volcanogenic rocks. The villages in the Lakes are very picturesque with the houses built of the lovely greenslate and Keswick is almost all green with some other rock interspersed to give a dramatic contrast. From the quarry, it was an easy walk up to Low Water which was a frozen Tarn. All the while, the weather was fine and sunny although cold. We had a tea break here to admire the views of the hills rising around the tarn, many looking very rocky and impenetrable.

The walk continued up a good path on to the ridge and the Old Man of Coniston at 2,631 feet high. It was very busy on the top as it was a Saturday and sunny and books state that this is a mountain also for non hill walkers. The English Lakes is a fairly crowded place as it serves a large, densely populated catchment area in the North of England. Rather than continue on to Swirl How as the book suggested, we planned a less busy route around Dow Crag to Buck Pike and down the Cove to pick up a good track back to the car park making it a circular walk. There were good views of interesting rock formations down the steep side of the ridge. The only drawback was the walkout seemed long on the stony track but this was compensated by the views over the mountains.

In Ambleside, the others managed to do a circuit of the Outdoor Shops but I relaxed in the bakery with a coffee and cake. That night it was difficult to find an eatery in Keswick as it was so busy but we did find one eventually. Hill walking with all the fresh air gives a very robust appetite and food is an important part of the weekend We went back to the live music hostelry later but it was only marginally better than the previous evening so it was an early night again!

Photo: Beacon High Street. The following day we did a linear walk planned by Stephen using two cars from Kirkstone to Hartsop taking in the Roman High Street. Nearly two thousand years' ago, the Romans were the first to traverse over unforgiving features and did not let a few mountains deter them on the High Street from Penrith to Ambleside. The last Roman Road I walked was at Dere Steet on St Cuthberts Way which was also straight going over hills rather than circling around them.

In the evening we travelled back to Glasgow, around two and half hours drive. I suppose the Fannaichs can wait until another time!

Coming Attractions; Cairngorms again, Larigh Ghru and anything else I do in the next few months.

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Thanks to Frances Rickus for the photographs.